21 July 2017

Pass your children thru the fire for Mammon.

NOTE. This entry does not deserve such a shocking title. The way it came about is this: I wrote the entire thing, right down to the very last sentence, exactly as it stands at present (I never revise); and then I added this one extra sentence (which is now the title) after the final sentence, yet I immediately realized that I like the post better without this injunction. However, feeling fond of it, I didn't want to delete it; and I needed a title for the post, so I said: Why not use this extra sentence for the title? And so I did. And here's what I think it means:

Mammon is the god of filthy lucre. Artworks are the offspring of the artist. There is a vast idol of Mammon in the midst of the marketplace, directly in front of which is a sacrificial blaze. The artist passes her works thru this inferno, when offering them up unto the commercial deity.

You're right: I swapped the name of Mammon for Molech. Here's a fragment from the book of the prophet Jeremiah:

...they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech... (32:35)

Also the prophet Isaiah mentions something similar with regard to Tophet, which the encyclopedia says is "a place of sacrifice in the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna, which later acquired the connotation of 'Hell')."

Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for Molech it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it. (Isaiah 30:33)

Dear diary,

Master and slave. Lord and serf. Employer and employee.

I'm aware that this next observation is not original; it was just on my mind, so I'm recording it: we United Statesians claim to love democracy, but everything important in our country is run as a dictatorship. How many jobs allow the workers actual influence over their company's actions? And think about the Christian religion: Did God the Father get elected to his position? Did Jesus earn more votes than Lucifer?

Deferment. It's something I live. Composing these entries, I get no precipitate remuneration beyond what is intrinsic in the act itself. Which satisfaction is full, because I love writing, so I have my reward; nonetheless I complain without end because I want MORE. Always more. I want instant gratification. Emily Dickinson might even have known that her compositions would eventually be honored – most highly honored – but there must have always been an accompanying concern about bootlessness. For if your family, friends, society, in short everyone everywhere remains indifferent to your raison d'ĂȘtre, it wouldn't render you crazy to doubt your own worth. It is in this sense that I worry that I am a failure. And yet I KNOW that I own the future. So life is worth the living just because.

Yet I repeat these lines from Milton's "Lycidas" at some point daily (I'm well aware how often I've quoted them in this journal – that is to emphasize how much they haunt me):

Alas! what boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely slighted shepherd's trade,
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?
Were it not better done as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair?

Why write poetry? Why not make love instead? The best answer I can find is that whereas lovemaking ends in pregnancy and venereal disease, poetry offers you potentially limitless... No, this dilemma is unanswerable. Because gorgeous hair IS valuabler than poems.

(By the way, last night I tried to listen to a radio program about opioid addiction and had to shut it off before it finished because it was too sad.)

So that's a quote for bootlessness; now we need one for honor. Bootlessness and honor are on my mind because I applied each term above to Dickinson, and (serpentinely) to myself in a bout of self-pity combined with egoism. Here's some of Falstaff's speech, from the Henry IV plays by Shakespeare:

Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word honour? What is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died a-Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon—and so ends my catechism.

Contemplating repetition, the fact that this journal of mine keeps returning to the same few points, my memory wanders to the Koran, which I continue re-reading so as to ease and expand my confusion. The Koran reminds me of the biblical book of Deuteronomy. People in the religion of my parents, protestant Christianity, never stop proclaiming "Jesus is Lord." I'm not sure what exactly they intend to convey by that phrase, or how much they think about what they're saying, but I've always taken their words to mean "Jesus is Yahweh," because that title "LORD" replaces the proper name Yahweh in most places of the King James Bible. And ditto the Hebrew "Adonai." From what I understand, ancient Hebrew had no vowels (I mean its written form), so later scribes took it upon themselves to add vowel points to the scripture, for the sake of clarification, and when they came to the divine name YHVH, the tetragrammaton, they added the vowels for the Hebrew word for Lord, "Adonai," since, when reading scripture aloud, either out of reverence or because they feared that it would unleash evil effects like a curse or spell, they always avoided voicing the divine name, instead they substituted the respectful title, so this left the text with the consonants for "Yahweh" but the vowels for "Adonai," which caused the English translators to mistake that god's name as Jehovah; and to this day nobody knows how the name YHVH was pronounced. ("Yahweh" is just a guess.) But this explanation is a digression: I only meant to mention that when I read Deuteronomy, its god "the LORD" seems nothing at all like Jesus, so I would not say "Jesus is LORD." That equation does not compute. However, the LORD of Deuteronomy seems very like Allah of the Koran. But even this is still a digression from the thought that I wanted to give here: I really only wanted to say that the Koran has taught me that repetition in an author's work is not undesirable: constantly in that text I encounter the notion of the Final Judgment, where I'm assured that believers will be invited into a pleasure garden, whereas infidels will end up in eternal torment. Every time I read yet another reiteration of this idea, I'm pleased with the picture of Paradise that is given. (Though I don't like to think about Perdition, of course.) Here, I'll copy the latest instance that I ran into, just to pick up my mood this morning. It's from sura 76, the title of which is rendered as "Time." (I'm using Ahmed Ali's English translation, which I find to be consistently excellent. Also note that, in the quote below, I swapped one "and" for an ampersand to avoid enjambment.) I like its first verse too: "Was there not a time in the life of man / when he was not even a mentionable thing?" Now here's the part about bliss:

So God will protect them from the evil of that day,
and grant them happiness and joy,
And reward them for their perseverence
Paradise and silken robes,
Where they will recline
on couches feeling neither heat of the sun
nor intense cold.
The shadows will bend over them,
and low will hang the clusters of grapes.
Passed round will be silver flagons
and goblets made of glass,
And crystal clear bottles of silver,
of which they will determine the measure themselves.
There will they drink a cup flavoured with ginger
From a spring by the name of Ever-flowing-Salsabil.
& boys of everlasting youth will go about attending them.
Looking at them you would think
that they were pearls dispersed.
When you look around, you will see
delights and great dominion.
On their bodies will be garments
of the finest green silk and brocade,
and they will be adorned with bracelets of silver;
and their Lord will give them a purest draught to drink.
"This in truth is your recompense,
and acceptance of your endeavours."

That's one of the longest passages about heavenly conditions that I've come across in my casual reading of this book. I love the spring name "Ever-flowing-Salsabil". This passage makes me imagine what I myself might say about Paradise, how I would describe it. Would I focus on rivers, on cool drinks, on clothing? Would I say that every inhabitant receives a television? (I don't mean to be jokey: it's hard for our age to imagine loving existence without the aid of a picture-screen to mitigate and interpret all phenomena.) No; I'd emphasize friendship and conversation, because those are the best things that I have ever encountered.

But how curious that when I, an earthling, attempt to envision the populace of any outer-space wonderland, I must draw from my poverty bag of terrestrial perceptions. I must take what I've experienced and recombine aspects; I cannot invent newfangled things from whole cloth. It is possible to dream of a giraffe's head stemming from the body of a rhinoceros, but I can't imagine what a cherub looks like... unless they really are infant humans with wings. But if they're like flying babies, then why are people always so scared when they see an angel? However, come to think of it, I'd be terrified if I opened the window on a summer afternoon and a child flew in. What do you do: grab the fly-swatter?

Yesterday we got our A.C. tuned up. I don't know why those types of maintenance calls make me so tense. I go almost out of my mind with worry. I assume the worst. I fear that the serviceperson will be a homicidal maniac, or that they'll cross the wrong electrical wires and set our house ablaze, or accidentally drill through a water pipe...

Fire and flood: the ways that God prefers to destroy the world.

And with regard again to Yahweh's title "LORD" I give this quote from an encyclopedia entry for "Serfdom":

...in return for protection, a serf would reside upon and work a parcel of land within the manor of his lord.

If you think about it, this is the original Paradise, in the biblical account, with the first-created human being Adam:

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

So either stay content with being a serf, or burn in Hell for eternity. That's the message.

Thus, on Thor's Day the Fourth Day of the Week, I awoke with a foreboding feeling, because the air conditioning unit was scheduled to be serviced. I couldn't sleep past 5 a.m. so I crept upstairs to the Writers Lounge where the sofa is, and I opened the royal purple laptop computer and began to type, but after just one paragraph I noticed that our Internet was not working. So I took a shower instead. Then, using a red marker and a lethally sharp blade, I measured and cut a piece of underlayment so that I could finish installing the floating vinyl floorboards in the kitchen, which is still plankless. But the water putty that I employed to plug two divots in the wooden subfloor had not yet dried (it turns pale yellow when it dries, like corn or hay bales; but at the moment it was still Florida orange), so I had to wait. There is no punch line or point to these quotidian reminiscences: I'm just trying to continue in the spirit of the last words of Samuel Beckett's L'innommable (The Unnamable): "...I can't go on, I'll go on."

Beckett wrote a number of his masterpieces in French and then translated them himself into English. Can you believe how much life happens before you are born?

And a novel in French is a roman. I really like that.

So anyway that's why I didn't post a diary entry yesterday. I was busy hyperventilating. The service guy, incidentally, was kind and friendly: totally the opposite of a vicious mutant crab, which is what I was expecting. He didn't try to kill us. I met him for one second but then I left on my bike and went to the park (my sweetheart was good enough to guard the hearth); I brought with me the new roman that I'm reading: Gore Vidal's Empire. I'm still working through his books about U.S. history. They're thrilling but depressing: the former because you feel as though you're peeking behind the theater curtain of reality, and the latter because it ain't too pretty backstage. From the beginning, our country has been like a playground for rich men; and during my lifetime it's become more and more like a shoddy Vaudeville routine, like an entertainment troupe that travels from town to town: the goal is to drum up a lot of flashy commotion so that the audience does not notice how the set is falling apart.

Just think of all the newborns who know nothing of the world they're entering into. When I was too young to think, I thought the world was a fine place. Maybe the world IS fine. Maybe when middle-aged grumps like me blame the world for being intolerable, what we're actually brooking is impatience with our own lack. You hate that you're inching ever closer to pain and death, and you feel that there should be a greater reward for all the trouble you've had to put up with. But if you could have whatever you want, what would you fix upon? It's similar to the problem with describing paradise: perhaps you DID choose your current existence, or rather your previous manifestation imagined the best life that it could conceive of, and that life is your present one. Wouldn't it be great if you could go back in time and battle your previous self? Maybe that's what happened to Jacob at Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-28).

And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh.

And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

And he said unto him, What is thy name?

And he said, Jacob.

And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

Robert Downey Sr. also credited himself as "A Prince" in the films he directed.

And Martin Scorsese is known for having followed a "one for them, one for me" practice of filmmaking, meaning that he would create one movie overtly to try to please the dollar-world (the paying audience or the bigwigs who bankrolled the film) and then the next movie he'd make purely to please himself. I admire Scorsese's mind and his films, but I don't like the idea of making art to please financiers. Or even audiences. I prefer the stuff that is deeply, uncompromisingly personal. But then I think about how much art over the ages has been made basically on request for wealthy patrons: many masterpieces were commissioned. And, as I was saying in my last entry about Surrealism, I like its lure to mesh the "I" with the "it"; and that's fairly what commissioned artwork does. So now I'm won over to the idea of creating art for money.

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